The relationship between South Africa and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is promising with the ASEAN recently pledging to boost search for ways to increase cooperation in areas of investment, trade and tourism in South Africa. This comes after the ASEAN Pretoria Committee (APC) a committee of diplomats representing the interest of ASEAN member states in South Africa, held its first meeting of 2014 to discuss ways of strengthening multifaceted cooperation between ASEAN and South Africa.
This article discusses South Africa's engagement with ASEAN member states how can it be improved as a strategic partnership for mutual benefit while at the same time strengthening South Africa's economic diplomacy with ASEAN group
In regards to bilateral relations, it is important to note that South Africa shares diplomatic relations with all ASEAN member states. Four of these relations have been in existence before South Africa became a democratic state in 1994, while full diplomatic relations with the other six nations were established after1994.
These relations signify and highlight the importance and values of the relationship shared by South Africa and ASEAN. High level official visits from South Africa to ASEAN member states are growing with a purpose to promote trade, investment and to boost other forms of cooperation. For example, in 2013 high level visits were made by Vietnam and Thailand to South Africa and President Zuma visited Malaysia in August 2013.
Again, in 2013 the South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Mr. Ebrahim Ebrahim undertook a Working Visit to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on the 4th- 5th December accompanied by business delegation. The focus of the visit was trade and investment, marking South Africa's first business venture into Myanmar after this country normalized its domestic situation recently
For South Africa, the level of trade with ASEAN member states is still a challenge in that it remains below expectations even though it has improved. South Africa and Indonesia agreed in 2012 to enhance bilateral relations and will conduct a joint study to explore trade opportunities by signing a Joint Trade Committee (JTC) in Jakarta, to provide mutual benefit for the economic development of both countries . The same has been said about other key ASEAN states
In 2012 bilateral trade turnover between South Africa and Vietnam almost reached 1 billion USD and with Thailand it is 5 billion USD in 2012 . The new relations with Myanmar where trade volume amounts to a mere 3.2 million USD has a long way to go
Consequently, cooperation between ASEAN and South Africa has a great potential to grow in the field of trade, infrastructure development, technology transfer, education and tourism . South Africa must continue to generate and expand its level of engagement and its strategic interest to increase trade and investment in abovementioned sector.
The APC which decided to work with South African leaders to advise them on alternative ways to accelerate trade and investment exchanges is a promising initiative that could attract the interest of businesses on both sides and thus boost economic relations. This will provide South Africa with an opportunity to improve its relations with ASEAN nations.
Lastly, South Africa is committed to strengthening regional integration across the different economic communities in the global south; building diplomatic engagement with ASEAN will enhance its ability to create strategic relations for social and economic benefit domestically, which can be transferred to the SADC region and Africa as a whole.
1 Vietnam chairs ASEAN Pretoria Committee meeting
2 SA, Indonesia seek ways to enhance trade
http://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/sa-indonesia-seek-ways-enhance-trade 3 ASEAN founding anniversary marked in South Africa
5 Vietnam chairs ASEAN Pretoria Committee meeting
Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Politics from the Rhodes University and is a research assistant at the IGD. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD